Thursday, August 22, 2019

Extending that Republican Rx for sickness: "just die"

If I didn't have some (weak) confidence that the Times does elementary fact checking, I'd find this unbelievable. But it's widely reported.

Charles Blow digs into how deliberate cruelty makes Trump a "folk hero" for many (most?) Republicans.

A Lust for Punishment
... Trump’s own punitive spirit aligns with and gives voice and muscle to American conservatives’ long simmering punitive lust. And this insatiable desire to inflict pain has particular targets: women (specifically feminists), racial minorities, people who are L.G.B.T.Q. and religious minorities in this country. In short, the punishments are directed at anyone who isn’t part of, or supportive of, the white supremacist patriarchy.

... The whole discussion of abortion and those who oppose a woman’s right to choose this legal and legitimate medical procedure is in part rooted in punishment. The woman was a reckless custodian of her body and dared to have sex, unprotected, at a time when she wasn’t prepared to be a mother or with a man she didn’t want to be her child’s father. For shame. She should be made to complete the pregnancy, give birth to the child and raise it. This is her punishment for sex.

... In discussions about the disproportionate rates of black male incarceration or black men gunned down by the police, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read or heard conservatives say that these black males’ own actions courted the punishment, that they got what they deserved.

This has ever been the case: the flaying of black flesh as punishment for some infraction, perceived or real, from the lash and hounds of slavery to the lynchings that surged after the Civil War, from state execution when the killing moved indoors to our current extrajudicial killings by the police in which the morbid act moves back outside. ...

Read it all.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Does this medal remind you of anything?

Soldiers who Trump has sent to guard the Mexican border against the "invasion" lodged in his feral imagination will earn a medal that looks like this.
As Erudite Partner remarked: "Repulsive."

The Armed Forces Service Medal was created by President Bill Clinton in 1996 through an executive order. The award ... was previously given to troops who operated along the border under President George W. Bush. It has also been awarded to troops who have deployed to Bosnia, Haiti and West Africa on humanitarian or peacekeeping missions.

So there is a precedent. Sort of. Trump treats the U.S. Armed Forces like his personal toy soldiers.

U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The "stop the world, I want to get off" crowd

Since November 2016 when the Trump election was enabled by votes from 81 percent of white evangelical Christians, I've noodled away at understanding what drives these people. The simple explanation -- these are terrified white people grasping at the Making America White Again straw despite its repugnance -- is both irrefutable and yet feels incomplete. John Fea helped me appreciate how terrified these people are in a culture they can't seem to grasp, much less control and constrain. Fear overrides both sense and common decency.

Major media are taking another run at understanding white evangelical Christians. Washington Post writer Elizabeth Bruenig braved the wilds of north Texas from which she sprang last spring during Holy Week, reporting sensitively on the folks she'd left behind. Amid her compassion, there were hints of something chilling. She quotes "Lydia Bean, 38, a researcher who taught at Baylor University":

“Basically, it’s like a fortress mentality, where it’s like — the best we can do is lock up the gates and just pour boiling oil over the gates at the libs,” ...“I really think one of the things that’s changed since I did my fieldwork at the very end of the Bush administration is a rejection of politics in general as a means to advance the common good, even in a conservative vein.” In that case, politics “becomes a bloodsport, where you’re punishing and striking back at people you don’t like” without much hope of changing anything. For that kind of “hopeless cynicism” regarding politics — walls up, temporary provisions, with just enough strength and zeal left to periodically foil one’s enemies — Trump is an ideal leader.

That is, terror at imagined loss can morph into nihilism. A few can become the El Paso terrorist. Far more simply cheer on Trump from within imagined fortress walls that ratify their purity:

By voting for Trump — even over more identifiably Christian candidates — evangelicals seem to have found a way to outsource their fears and instead reserve a strictly spiritual space for themselves inside politics without placing evangelical politicians themselves in power. In that sense, they can be both active political agents and a semi-cloistered religious minority, both of the world and removed from it, advancing their values while retreating to their own societies.

Conservative white evangelical internet troll Ben Howe explained his own kind less sympathetically to Emma Green:

...Trump’s appeal is not judges. It’s not policies. It’s that he’s a shit-talker and a fighter and tells it like it is. That’s what they like. They love the meanest parts of him.

Okay, I get it. White evangelicals are just scared witless by losing racial and cultural hegemony; they are using Trump to defend their bunker.
But I'm left with the question: how did white evangelical Christianity become the bastion of ignorance that this strain among us serves as today? If you are accustomed to using your wits to comprehend your surroundings, you are a lot less likely to be scared witless. And it wasn't always this way. It was some pretty rock-ribbed white Protestants who founded the country's early intellectual and scientific institutions -- Harvard, Princeton, even the first public schools.

And for all that, by the early 20th century, too many (most?) white evangelicals experienced basic science, especially in the form of evolutionary theory, as incompatible with their most cherished beliefs. Catholic and Protestant Christians made peace with science; evangelicals did not. It's awfully hard to live at peace with modernity -- with a civilization that can put a human on the moon, blow up the planet, and is creating climate chaos -- without living in a world informed by science.

A Pew Social Trends survey concludes that the same divide that gave us the blind partisanship which led to Trump also is leaching into attitudes toward education. By and large we think we need it -- but we are becoming dubious:

Americans see value in higher education – whether they graduated from college or not. ... Even so, there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction – even suspicion – among the public about the role colleges play in society ...

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that only half of American adults think colleges and universities are having a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days. About four-in-ten (38%) say they are having a negative impact – up from 26% in 2012.

And that divide has a partisan cast:
Healing for this country must include helping people -- especially white evangelical Christians -- both think and feel that knowledge of the world is a good; can we do that?

Monday, August 19, 2019

When the well runs dry: cooperation yields better result than competition

This map offered today by the Washington Post provides a scary picture of the many areas of the United States where climate chaos and human density are putting strain on water resources, especially in southwestern states. Are we going to end up like Cape Town, South Africa, where increasing shortages almost led to a complete municipal water shut off in a modern city? The story is worth reading.

But there's another story worth contemplating:

The climate-inspired detente on the Colorado
For the first time in history, low water levels on the Colorado River have forced Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico to cut back the amount of water they use. ... “It is a new era of limits,” said Kevin Moran, who directs the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River efforts.

... But these water-use reductions are also an example of people binding themselves to rules to deal with scarce resources, rather than going to court, or war. The cutbacks come from an agreement hammered out by the Southwestern states and Mexico to impose limits on themselves.

“It’s not necessarily well known or talked about, but this collaboration between the states and Mexico is one of the most successful cross-border water management stories in the world,” Moran said.

Over the long course of history, the various parties have fought each other over water, but found that cooperation simply works better, Moran said. ...

Read all about it.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Got the grumps

What could be more banally representative of our hyper-connected lives than what I spent yesterday doing ... repairing the havoc caused by a hacked credit card? This grumpy gargoyle seems to feel rather as I felt while changing my settings online on a multitude of websites.

This is not the fault of the credit card company. They caught the hack before any serious damage was done and promptly issued a replacement.

But it was a lot of labor. Every regular vendor I use -- health insurance, internet access, e-commerce, a gym, some charities -- had to be changed. And every one of them had a different procedure and a differently organized web site where I could accomplish this. The process was a kind of tutorial in web design, mostly bad.

Such is convenience.

Blogging will resume when I recover.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Saturday scenery: Woodstock

It's been 50 years since the iconic counter cultural gathering.

It's certainly a lovely setting.

In 1969, 400,000 people crowded into this field. And yes, then it rained.

For someone, the memory is so happy they've put the name of the property owner on their license plate. Perhaps part of the family?

No, I wasn't there. But I keep running across people in my circles who were -- guess that says something I find endearing about my friends. I took these shots in 2014 when one of the ones who had been there showed us the site.

Friday, August 16, 2019

U.S. actions have Central American consequences

Amilcar Perez Lopez traveled to San Francisco to work for his family's well-being; the boy from Guatemala kept his head down and was a "good worker" according to those who knew him. He found a neighborhood where there were many others like him; in the photo, the Mission community turned out to protest impunity for the SFPD officers who shot him in the back in 2015.

Erudite Partner argues that the current surge of migration from Central America that Donald Trump is using to stir up racist fears of "invasion" has been building for decades. In fragile states, corruption, and climate chaos have pushed people onto a terrible road."The US has driven Central Americans to flee," she explains:

There is indeed a real crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Hundreds of thousands of people like Amílcar are arriving there seeking refuge from dangers that were, to a significant degree, created by and are now being intensified by the United States. But Donald Trump would rather demonize desperate people than deploy the resources needed to attend to their claims in a timely way — or in any way at all.

It's time to recognize that the American way of life — our cars and comforts, our shrimp and coffee, our ignorance about our government's actions in our regional "backyard" — has created this crisis. It should be (but in the age of Trump won't be) our responsibility to solve it. ...

We broke these countries, we continue to break them, and we don't understand we own this.

Friday cat blogging

The unaccustomed hot weather has us pulling curtains and opening windows strategically. We don't actually have to worry about Morty trying to escape. He doesn't like heat and he's a bit of a fraidy cat.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Chronicler of power

Is Robert A. Caro a biographer? Perhaps a political reporter? A social historian? An investigative journalist? All of the above? That seems right. I know of no other writer of contemporary history whose works present such a broad yet still human-scale portrait of his subjects' lives and surrounding times.

In this little book -- Working -- he shares with his readers something of how he does whatever it is he has been doing in writing The Power Broker about New York titan Robert Moses and the still unfinished five (?) volume The Years of Lyndon Johnson. In particular Caro shares nuggets about some of the most powerful passages in those volumes. Even if you haven't read about how Moses devastated the South Bronx community of Tremont Street or how the women of the Texas Hill Country survived in Lyndon Johnson's youth, you get a manageable taste here. The book is a delight.

And what we learn of Caro's process certainly seems in harmony with his product. He researches obsessively, immerses himself in his subject's places and artifacts, researches some more, interviews available witnesses repeatedly -- and finally writes draft after draft, long hand. He works doggedly and apparently happily. He knows that his readers now wonder whether he'll live to finish his decades long Johnson opus; what's he doing offering this distraction from the main work?

I have so many thoughts about writing, so many anecdotes about research, that I would like to preserve for anyone interested enough to read them. I decided that, just in case, I'd put some of them down on paper now. ...

He claims he's actually a fast writer, a newspaper re-write man on a lifelong detour. But investigative reporting taught him to "turn every page" -- to follow every lead as far as it may lead him. He's a almost precious about this.

It's the research that takes the time -- the research and whatever it is in myself that makes the research take so long, so very much longer than I had planned. Whatever it is that makes me do research the way I do, it's not something I'm proud of, and it's not something for which I can take credit -- or the blame.

Ultimately, Caro's subject is "an examination of the essential nature -- the most fundamental realities -- of political power." Taking Robert Moses as his subject, he refined what that meant:

I had set out to write about political power by writing about one man, keeping the focus, within the context of his times, on him. I now came to believe that the focus should be widened, to show not just the life of the wielder of power but the lives on whom, and for whom, it was wielded; not to show those lives in the same detail, of course, but in sufficient detail to enable the reader to empathize with the consequences of power -- the consequences of government, really -- on the lives of its citizens, for good and for ill. To really show political power, you had to show the effect of power on the powerless, and show it fully enough so the reader could feel it.

Having explored an urban and state wielder of power, he looked to the national level. He wanted to describe some one who had done ""something that no one had done before." Johnson, among myriad accomplishments and failings, fit that bill:

For a hundred years before Lyndon Johnson, since the halcyon era of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, no one had been able to make the Senate work -- and in the fifty-nine years since Lyndon Johnson left the Senate, no one's been able to make the Senate work. But he made it work.

His volume on Johnson's Senate tenure remains an essential text on that impediment to the popular will for all the changes in style and content of US politics since the 1950s.

Speaking of changes, Caro's description of his working relationship with his wife and partner Ina reads quaint and, perhaps, under-considerate in 2019. He is unstinting in his praise of her contributions -- her contributions to what he nonetheless considers his great project. They worked together in the LBJ library, digging through the impossible volume of records. But he had another idea:

Working in the Reading Room with me would be Ina, in whose thoroughness and perceptivity in doing research I had learned to trust. ...

... I said to Ina, "I'm not understanding these people and therefore I'm not understanding Lyndon Johnson. We're going to move to the Hill Country and live there." Ina said, "Why can't you do a biography of Napoleon?"

But Ina is Ina: loyal and true. She said, as she always says: "Sure." We rented a house on the edge of the Hill Country, where we were to live for most of the next three years."

I can't help but wonder if Ina had more to say here, but I suppose we'll never know.

For all that, Robert A. Caro is a treasure of truths about power. Studying these great and horrible men of power, he reflects on what redeems the squalid squabbling of government, not always by the people:

There is evil and injustice that can be caused by political power, but there is also great good. It seems to be that people have forgotten this. They've forgotten, for example what Franklin Roosevelt did: how he transformed people's lives. How he gave hope to people. Now people talk in vague terms about government programs and infrastructure, but they've forgotten the women of the Hill Country and how electricity changed their lives. ... We certainly see how government can work to your detriment today, but people have forgotten what government can do for you. They've forgotten the potential of government, the power of government, to transform people's lives for the better.

I read this as an audiobook and strongly recommend that medium. Caro reads it himself.
Previous blog posts here about Robert A. Caro's books:
The Power Broker:
He got things done

Lyndon Johnson:
The hardness of the women's lives
A politician with no redeeming features
Lyndon Johnson, the Senate, and the people
A Lyndon Johnson tease

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A haunting border-crossing narrative

This short film follows the ordeal of a Honduran asylum-seeking family separated by Trump's border police -- and ultimately reunited in the U.S. onto a difficult path forward.

It is beautiful, contradicting the story it tells. I guess that is the story of our times.

I usually don't watch video content, but this is not to be missed.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Creating friction where he could

US champion fencer Race Imboden acted in response to his feeling that something ought to be done. He explains himself here.

I’m proud to be an American fencing champion. Here’s why I knelt for our anthem.
... at the podium, my palms wet from nerves, when the “Star-Spangled Banner” began to play, I took a knee — following in the footsteps of Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith: black, LGBT, female and Muslim athletes who chose to take a stand. I’m not a household name like those heroes, but as an athlete representing my country and, yes, as a privileged white man, I believe it is time to speak up for American values that my country seems to be losing sight of.

I’ve been honored to represent my country in international competition, and each time I hear our national anthem played, it’s a moment of personal pride. I love my country, full stop. When I look around, though, I see racial injustice, sexism, hate-inspired violence and scapegoating of immigrants. This isn’t new, but it feels like it’s getting worse, and after the mass killings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, I wanted to use that moment on the podium to send a message that things have to change.

Rather than acquiesce in hate and passivity, each of us we resists where we can. Each of us can learn from others that resistance is possible.

Unexpected good news

The findings from this Gallup Poll blow my mind. Apparently Trump/GOP howling about "an invasion" and visible cruelty to migrants at our southern border have had the effect of sensitizing an increasing fraction of us to our neighbors who are seeking asylum. Even rank and file Republicans are becoming more sympathetic toward migrants.

Support for allowing Central American refugees entry is now higher than Gallup has found for most refugee cases it has polled on historically, including Syrian refugees in 2015 as well as stretching back to refugees from the German Holocaust in the 1930s and 40s.

More and more us think there's a border "crisis." Apparently more and more of us also understand that people coming our way are not marauding hordes, but desperate vulnerable humans.

It's time to isolate the hard core racists and oust craven Republican enablers.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Nevada on my mind

Having spent two months in 2018 working to ensure that Nevada elected a Democratic US Senator and Democratic governor, I find myself tracking political doings in the Silver State.

This is facilitated by Nevada's having a courageous, thoughtful state nonprofit news site, The Nevada Independent. It's founder, Jon Ralston, is considered the go-to authority on state political machinations. The Independent posts a site that other journalistic outfits would be smart to emulate, the "Sisolak Promise Tracker" -- Steve Sisolak was that gubernatorial candidate whose name so many campaign visitors struggled to pronounce in 2018. Here's how they describe it:

Steve Sisolak made a lot of promises on the campaign trail and after taking office as governor. Below, The Nevada Independent tracked the progress and outcomes of Sisolak’s biggest pledges and promises after the 2019 Legislature. We have decided that the fairest way to track promises is to label the ones that have been completed as such and the ones that have not yet been addressed as such. We will continue to monitor progress on promises throughout Sisolak's four years in office. We will not label any of the promises as failures until the end of the governor's tenure if they still have not been addressed.

So what has Sisolak accomplished so far? With Democratic majorties in the legislature, a lot:
  • invested in mental health services;
  • helped lower drug prices by increasing state bargaining for Medicaid rates;
  • increased selected Medicaid reimbursement rates to doctors to encourage them to remain in Nevada;
  • established a Patient Protection Commission one of whose charges is avert surprise emergency room billing;
  • created a Maternal Mortality Review Program to figure out why too many women die in childbirth;
  • and joined other states' briefs against the Texas/Trump Justice Department attempt to bring down Obamacare through an ongoing lawsuit.
And that's just in the (very politically salient) area of health care.
Nevada will be the fourth state to express its preferences in the Democratic presidential sweepstakes -- after Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, but before the biggies like Texas, Massachusetts, Virginia, and California on March 3. It will be the first primary state which has a large Latinx population. Yet Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight reports it's not getting much attention from the squabbling crowd. Marianne Williamson has been there more than any of the others.

... most Democrats are spending barely any time there. In the period we looked at, from the 2018 midterms to the end of July 2019, six candidates didn’t visit Nevada at all after declaring their candidacy. And all but one have spent less than 5 percent of their campaign days there.

Hmmm -- you might think they'd show more interest. Though it is probably true the state is now purple-ish trending toward blue, it's been a recent battleground.

It's a very urban place. If what you know of Nevada has been driving across it on Interstate 80 you might think its an empty desert. However, almost all Nevadans live in either the Las Vegas area or around Reno/Sparks.

It's also a place with an authentically capable labor movement -- that is, something of a politically engaged working class.

These are Democratic strengths not well represented in the earlier primary states. Shouldn't some of these candidates be working them? If there's anything we know about 2020, it's that Democrats cannot be complacent!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Two sides of our healthcare system failures

Couple dead in apparent murder-suicide left notes saying they couldn’t afford medical care, police say
... Health-care spending in the United States has been increasing for decades, and costs for senior citizens are higher than those for citizens as a whole, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

An average of $18,424 per person was spent on medical care for people ages 65 and older in 2010 — five times the spending per child and three times the spending per working-age person, a report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says.

Roughly 65 percent of senior citizens’ medical costs are paid for through government services such as Medicare, which covers almost all seniors, and Medicaid, which covers low-income people and families. Health-care expenses more than double between ages 70 and 90.

Note that these old people were not uninsured. They had what our system offers. They were simply people for whom the US healthcare system didn't work because it cost too much.

The real reason the U.S. spends twice as much on health care as other wealthy countries
... the United States spends almost twice as much on health care as 10 other wealthy countries, a difference driven by high prices — including doctors' and nurses' salaries, hospital charges, pharmaceuticals and administrative overhead. ...

Nonspecialist doctors in the United States are paid on average $220,000 per year — double the average salary in the other countries. Nurses and specialists were also compensated better.  ... Administrative costs were 8 percent of health care spending in the United States, vs. an average of 3 percent among wealthy countries. ...

... prices can be difficult to curb, because one person's high price is another person's profit margin or salary. Hospitals are often among the biggest employers in a region. Pharmaceutical companies offer American consumers big innovation but big price tags — and the debate about how or whether something needs to be done about drug costs has typically fallen apart under the weight of extensive lobbying by the industry. ...

I may be wrong, but a heck of a lot of the political discussion of healthcare focuses on what seems only the first half of the problem: yes, we all need access. That means to the providers -- doctors, hospitals, etc (etc. of which there is a lot) -- there's some assurance they'll get paid something if they treat us. But we also need to be able to afford the care we need. Too many people have "insurance" which comes with costs so high they don't dare use it except in the most dire emergencies.

I'd be happier with the Democratic health care debates if more energy were going into saying directly what they hope to do about the affordability side of the challenge. We don't easily believe that "Medicare for all" would completely relieve us of impossible bills. After all, Medicare as it exists doesn't do that, though those of us who've made it past 65 are glad and grateful to have it. But we wonder ...

Saturday, August 10, 2019

One path out of the woods?

Sometimes I get an inkling that our infuriating, endlessly clever, too frequently self-absorbed, species may -- just perhaps -- figure out how to avert the most devastating consequences of climate crisis.
Here's a woman with a consequential good idea -- and it has already gone into production.

Friday, August 09, 2019

To be afraid is appropriate, not crazy

Friends online, seeking to contextualize the El Paso massacre, pointed to this PBS documentary. (I snagged it from Netflix, but it is readily available in many outlets.)

It's a good, thorough, narrative of the sequence of events -- the ATF storming of Ruby Ridge, the incineration of the Waco Branch Davidians -- that formed the 1990s catalogue of government offenses that right wingers used to justify organizing in violent militias and, eventually, the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma's federal building. That domestic terrorist act killed 168 people, of whom about 100 were low level government employees and many of the others children in a daycare center. The film asks an all too contemporary question.

How could somebody get to that state in their life where they would be so angry and upset they would do something like this?

Joe Hersley, FBI agent

The perpetrator, Tim McVeigh, wanted to start the "next American revolution." A disgruntled failed soldier who loved guns, he drifted into neo-Nazi circles and became convinced that "the only way government is going to get the message is with a body count ..."

In the film, that indefatigable researcher of the right-wing, Leonard Zeskind, answers what we are now asking about El Paso suspect Patrick Crusius: was McVeigh some kind of sick sociopath, or did he come out of an identifiable right wing milieu?

There was no massive conspiracy, that much is true, but the idea that Timothy McVeigh was a lone killer, that is wrong headed. because it absolves the movement from which it all sprang. Timothy McVeigh was not on his own, he was the creation fo the white supremacist movement. He carried the Turner Diaries around and read it to people. He lived at the gun shows. He met neo-Nazis ... and the idea that there was no connection between the white supremacist movement and the events in Oklahoma City is patently false. There was a strong connection ...

And now we have a president who vibes with white nationalists ...

Friday cat blogging

Every morning, Morty gets his blood pressure medicine stuck down his throat. Every evening, he gets a squirt of antibiotic before our bedtime. Not surprisingly, he spends a good bit of time in his hideaway, escaping these indignities.

But these assaults have given him a new lease on life. Looking quite well, isn't he, for an old gentleman.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

A curiosity

Encountered in a heavily used public restroom.

What was whatever authority that put it there thinking? The setting is multilingual -- do users who are not English speakers respond? What do managers expect to learn from asking for feedback? Do they think users will treat the facility more gently if asked their opinion? What's the distribution of answers? -- I wouldn't be surprised if responses tended to the ends of the spectrum. I sense an instinct in myself to look for the positive button on the far right -- is this common and does it effect response? How many of us use this opportunity to rate a public toilet?

I didn't push a button. Sorry.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Chesa Boudin for District Attorney

"We have an adversary system," remarked San Francisco District Attorney candidate Suzy Loftus, making the sort of clichéd observation that passes without drawing attention to itself.

Yet I think that statement gets to the heart of what was being debated last night among the four aspirants to replace incumbent DA George Gascon who gave up instead on running for re-election, creating an opening for a new turn from a position taking hits from right and left.

Three conventionally qualified prosecutors -- Loftus, Leif Dautch, and Nancy Tung -- want the job as we've known it, and promise to do it better. They might.

Chesa Boudin, an experienced public defender, wants to redefine the job.

The adversary system of criminal "justice" necessarily fails for people whose lives and experience have placed them on the lower rungs of the system. When up against the force of the state, even with the help of our exceptionally competent public defenders, they just get ground up and discarded, occasionally brutally, but also simply as a matter of everyday procedure and without personal malice. Jail, bail, and ongoing criminal stigma don't heal individuals or communities.

Chesa Boudin thinks growing up with parents who were locked up and a career fighting for the dignity of poor people while exposing crooked cops qualifies him to turn the system upside down. He might.

If you think justice is not being done in San Francisco, Chesa is your candidate. He's not as smooth a speaker as the other candidates, though he's certainly passionate. But he knows from experience how the system works and who it fails. He deserves a shot in an office that's become so dysfunctional that the last guy just ran away. Let's give him a try in November.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Once and future fears

Seventy-four years ago today, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, incinerating some 100,000 people and blasting into being one facet of the era of existential species instability.

To mark the anniversary of one of humanity's greatest atrocities and in light of the Trump administration's choice to trash the longstanding (and perhaps creaky) Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, here's Jeff Schogol who has made a journalistic career of covering the our muscle-bound military from close up.

We're all going to die.

That doesn't mean we're all going to die tomorrow, but before we delve into the United States government's withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, it's worth remembering that we are all mortal and our corporeal existence will end one day even if the world is not consumed by a nuclear holocaust or global warming or the heat death of the sun (Your daily motivation courtesy of your friend and humble narrator).

... On Friday, the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement claiming, "Russia is solely responsible for the treaty's demise."

For defense industry, the end of the 32-year-old treaty meant to prevent Armageddon is surely more exciting than Christmas, July 4th, and the Super Bowl all wrapped up in an orgasm. Expect to see companies rolling out new lines of missiles for Prime Day; after all, nothing says "I love you" like a $500,000 million gift card for Raytheon.

... In other words, the Pentagon is free to become more lethal, and if there's one thing the U.S. military loves, it's lethality, which top civilian and uniformed officials are known to mix with baking powder and smoke it like crack cocaine. ...

Read it all.

While we persist and resist oblivion, we cannot forget.

When the invasion was not imaginary ...

That is, the invasion of Mexico by the United States. TPM passes along that

Natalie Martinez, a researcher at Media Matters, flagged yesterday that since May 2018 President Trump’s reelection campaign has run roughly 2,200 Facebook ads using the word “invasion.” Unsurprisingly, a quick perusal suggests they’re all about immigration — namely, a Mexican and/or South American “invasion” of the United States which can only be prevented by President Trump and his wall.

Guess that's Trump's election message, successfully transmitted to the El Paso killer who drove 571 miles to find his brown targets.

Mexicans remember heroism under foreign assault from their own perspective. In 1931, muralist Diego Rivera painted bravery in defense against the firepower of the United States Marines in the Palacio Nacional de Mexico:

To defend [Chapultepec] castle [above Mexico City], Santa Anna installed General Nicolas Bravo with 1,000 troops, fifty military cadets, and some artillery in buildings and supporting earthworks. Beginning on 12 September [1847], Winfield Scott’s artillery bombarded the castle; on 13 September, he launched his main attack.... The battle is rich in lore. Five teenage military cadets who refused to retreat and who defended the castle to their death—one jumped from the castle with the Mexican flag wrapped around his body, so the Americans could not capture it—are widely memorialized in Mexico as "Los Niños Héroes." ... Losses: U.S., 130 dead, 703 wounded, 29 missing; Mexican, at least 1,000 dead, wounded, or captured.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Mexicans continue to take casualties of our dangerous entitlement. Time to tear down walls and restore peaceful commerce to the border.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Through all the changes in the city ...

... brave, determined people keep on finding a home in San Francisco and this harsh country of continuing opportunity. Meet one of our neighbors; kudos to Mission Local for sharing her story.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

This is what an Illinois moderate looks like ...

Lauren Underwood is the Congresswoman from the 14th District of Illinois, located just west of Chicago. This place is 89.9% urban, 85.8% White, and boasts a comfortably above average median income of $92K. The Cook Political Report assigns it a rating of R+5, meaning that historically its voters have been 5 points more Republican than the national average.

Recently Congresswoman Underwood told the tale of how she won election in San Francisco. Now 31, she's completed a nursing degree and served as a health policy wonk in the Department of Health and Human Services. At the change of administration, she went home to Napierville, IL and started "living my best life." She appealed to her Republican Congressman not to destroy the gains in health care access created by Obamacare. He promised not to -- and then voted for the House health care bill that would have gutted the ACA.

And so, Underwood became a candidate for Congress. There were seven (!) aspirants for the Democratic endorsement in her primary -- she beat all of them with 57 percent of the vote.

How'd she do that? She listened to people, especially women, often in kitchens, usually named Pat or Barb or Marge. She knocked on doors where no one had seen a Democrat in years.

She found out what her potential constituents cared about: the cost of health care, especially surprise bills for emergency visits; kids in cages on the border; that their Republican Congressman didn't seem to be listening to them.

In November 2018, she won by 8 percentage points. The district had voted for Trump by 4 percentage points and even last fall went for the Republican candidate who lost the governor's mansion to a Democrat.

Some secrets of Underwood's success from my notes:

"Nursing training taught me to go in to a person and build trust quickly." ... "You can mobilize more [potential] voters than you can persuade." ... [Since taking office,] "I work for the people of the 14th district. I am not here to respond to the news of the day. I work to pass my bills. It is not my job to comment on everything that happens." ... "Be careful how you speak. Do not speak in anger. This stuff lives forever." ... "If I keep my job, the Democratic vision will have won."

Underwood seems a rare, inspiring, political talent -- and perhaps a reminder to Californians that not all great champions of decency need to be fire-breathers. Republicans think they can take this congressional seat back. The Congresswoman has other plans; see more at Underwood for Congress.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Saturday scenes and scenery: views from Gaylor Peak

Last week at this time, we were atop Gaylor Peak (11,004 feet) scanning the horizon. This heap of loose talus is next to and well above the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park on the east end of California Route 120. The road down to Lee Vining is visible here, adjacent to Ellery Lake. Reaching the summit requires clambering over expanses of loose talus rock (foreground); the greater barriers to the ascent are hordes of mosquitoes and high altitude.

Looking south, the rugged summit of Mt. Dana looms at 13,053 feet. That's a tough rock heap!

The high peaks in the central part of the park stretch south.

Looking north, we're plotting next year scrambling along that ridge line ...

... to the summit at far left named unimaginatively "12,002" for its elevation. We'll do it, fitness, weather, and good luck permitting. There's usually at least some snow to cross.

Erudite Partner navigates the ridge on the descent.

Kaye celebrates with a head stand on Gaylor Ridge with the little peak in the background.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Election mechanics miscellany

Often the rules of the road determine what's possible. I try to notice what's going on:
  • Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) increases turnout -- but perhaps not as much as you might expect. In states which adopt AVR (in blue above), people who have contact with the government, such as at the DMV, are added to the voter rolls unless they opt out. There's a modest gain in overall turnout in elections, maybe one percent. The greater effect is on who votes.

    People between 18 and 24 who live in AVR states are 6.3 percentage points more likely to turn out. By contrast, AVR is not associated with increased turnout, potentially even a modest decrease in turnout, among people over 65. Similarly, the likelihood of turnout among the lowest-income individuals is 4.0 percentage points higher in AVR states.

    No wonder Republicans tend to oppose AVR.
  • Primary rules can cause confusion and frustration. Primaries are a strange hybrid beast. In these elections, especially at the presidential level, governments (which represent all the people) cooperate in the process by which particular political parties pick their candidates. Here in California, in most contests we can forget that because the top two vote-getters advance to the general election. But the state legislature wanted our big, highly activated state to have a louder voice in selecting the Democratic presidential candidate this cycle, so they moved the vote up until March. When our primary was in June, it usually didn't matter much.

    But this time around, we'll run into an anomaly. California voters are not required to register as a member of a particular party to vote in its primary. Say you are registered as "decline to state" -- as about one third of us are. You can walk into your polling place and ask for the ballot of any party; you'll have no problem making your voice heard in the primary election of your choice.

    But this doesn't work if you are among the two thirds of us who vote by mail. To vote in the party primary, you have to tell the county registrar which party you want to vote in. If you don't do that, the mail-in ballot you receive will be blank in the presidential section.

    Registrars and candidates have a huge job of public education ahead if we are not to have millions of frustrated Californians next year.

Friday cat blogging

It's summer, even here in Fogville. And a few cats investigate the out-of-doors.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

An honor roll of Democrats NOT running for president

These are plenty of older white male Senators who could have made themselves part of the pack of indistinguishable aspirants who have joined the crowd. But they didn't and I think they need some recognition for the good they are doing for the country staying right where they are.
  • Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio looked and didn't leap. He's an honorable voice for a certain kind of manufacturing unionism, a decent fighter for working families, for healthcare for all, for a clean environment, and for infrastructure upgrades. He was re-elected in 2018 from a midwestern state that Dems will have hard time carrying in 2020.
  • Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia might have thought that, having been Hillary Clinton's running mate in 2016, he should have been next in line. Instead, he has dug in in trying to restrict U.S. military adventurism by restoring Congress's war power. He mobilizes against the federal death penalty so emblematic of our vengeful rulers. We need some Senators like this.
  • Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon has long impressed me as one of the sharper Democratic senators. He was the first Congresscritter to break the story of Trump's children's concentration camps on the border over a year ago. He works knowledgeably against the climate crisis and for cheaper drugs.
Growing up to be president needn't be the only, or best, service a politician can render to the country. Bravo to those who thought better of it. Long may they serve.

And thumbs down to the scrabbling scrum who, even though several seem smart and decent, don't belong on any further debate stages.
Graphic abstracted from The Cut.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Democratic debate wisdom

In this week of what we all hope will be the last of the oversize Democratic debates (most of these people not pictured here need to quit, NOW!), this smart admonition seems on point:
Mr. Schatz, a senator from Hawaii, has distinguished himself among his peers by not running for president.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Justice foully delayed -- but not denied forever

This case always stunk to high heaven. But Hamid Hayat had to serve 13 years in prison because the federal government and too many of his California neighbors were scared stupid after the 9/11 attacks.

A father and son, immigrant Pakistani agricultural workers from Lodi, visited their old country in 2003-2005. The federal government, desperate to find secret Muslim terrorists in our midst, accused both men on their return of having received military training. I described the case this way in May, 2006 and nothing that has come out since shows U.S. law enforcement as other than ignorant and racist.

Hayat "confessed" under FBI interrogation, after much prompting, saying that he had been to a terrorist camp in Pakistan. This "evidence" might seem more convincing if his father had not also "confessed" under interrogation that his son had attended a terrorist camp -- at a completely different location where "the training, including firearms practice, took place in an enormous, deep basement where trainees masked like 'Ninja turtles' practiced pole-vaults and executions with scimitars."

Unfortunately for Hamid Hayat, his jury never heard this version as his father was tried separately under a completely different theory about the location of the putative camp. The father's jury was unable to agree on a verdict.

Okay -- I wasn't there at this trial, I didn't hear it all -- but this case sure sounds like a prosecution for the thought crime of stupidly fantasizing about being an Islamic warrior. Dumb, yes -- but criminal? Not in my book. The evidence that this guy did anything but harbor silly ideas seems awfully thin.

With better attorneys and in different times, Hayat's defenders have never given up.

And now a federal judge has thrown the case she once presided over out of court. The government could appeal, but their "evidence" has been effectively rebutted by witnesses in Pakistan who saw both father and son every day of their visit.

Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also applauded the decision.

“After all these years, we never lost hope that Hamid’s wrongful conviction would be overturned,” Elkarra said. “At the time of Hamid’s case, the prosecution took advantage of anti-Muslim, post-9/11 bias to convict an innocent man. And this much-needed good news comes at a time when Islamophobia and bigotry as a whole is on the rise.”

Sanctuary laws don't enforce themselves

Friends, neighbors, and supporters gathered outside city hall in Daly City on Monday to file a complaint against the suburb's police department. In the case of Armando, the local cops seem to have violated California's sanctuary law (SB54) and city policy by delivering a resident who had no criminal record to immigration enforcers.

Jessica Yamane, an attorney from La Raza Community Center, described how the DCPD had stopped Jose Armando Escobar-Lopez (who goes by "Armando"), his partner Krisia Mendoza, and a friend in a car on their way home from church on May 11. The police ran a check on 21-year-old Armando who entered the country in 2015 escaping violence in his native El Salvador. They discovered he had a deportation order of which he was unaware and handed him over to ICE. Thanks to vigorous legal interventions, Armando has so far not been deported, although he is still being detained outside Bakersfield.

Armando's partner Krisia (here holding his picture) has advocated tirelessly for Armando's release while working two jobs to afford to keep their residence.

The group trouped into the building to file their complaint. Here Angela Chan from Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus finds the offices of the mayor and city council locked.

It takes a determined village to keep local jurisdictions on track within the law and delivering better justice.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Heading for the hills ... back next week

Don't know if we'll get to this lovely spot again. Photo was taken in 2010. But we'll get close, hiking the eastern Sierra slope from Lee Vining.

Blogging will resume on Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

White supremacist violence

While most attention to hearings is naturally turning to Robert Mueller's House testimony, I don't want this declaration from FBI Director Christopher Wray yesterday to get lost. He explained that the majority of cases of domestic terrorism the Bureau has investigated this year have involved "white supremacist violence." Scary times.

Meanwhile we have GOPers bleating that there were no Russian trolls and there is no racism.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

What U.S. democracy is up against

This chart haunts me. Click to enlarge. Over the last 50 years,, the Republican Party has evolved to play on the same far right turf as neo-Nazis in Europe. It's positioning is not simply conservative. With a nudge from Koch Brothers and the Murdoch media, the GOP has drifted into evil waters. Trump's unrestrained racism seals the deal.

Only unity among people in resistance can impede this. Can we put up with each other for the larger good?

Monday, July 22, 2019

If everyone just voted ... well, maybe

Greg Sargent is the lead author of The Plum Line column at the Washington Post. Day after day he excoriates the Trump administration; he wields a sharp skewer and is a satisfying antidote to the daily insanity.

Perhaps because he is so predictable day in and day out in that context, I didn't expect to encounter much unexpected in An Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunderdome Politics. Happily, Sargent is serious about second half of that title: he presents realistic prescriptions for how small "d" U.S. democracy can be preserved and enhanced. And unlike a lot of Washington-based pundits, he has a grasp of how elections actually work at the grassroots level that I seldom encounter from political scientists bemoaning our politics.

I'm just going to focus here on his discussion of what it would mean and what it would take to get more people to vote. Our history is bad on that front: between 2004 and 2014 in legislative elections, our rate of participation had us ranked as 113th out of 114 countries. And the citizens who don't vote are different from those who do -- mostly poorer, browner, younger, and less "conservative." (Sargent's book came out in October 2018 so he didn't see the "historically high" turnout in the midterm elections: the country hit 49.3 percent of eligible voters showing up. That number doesn't seem something to cheer about.)

Sargent is realistic about how hard it is to increase voting. He reports, accurately in my experience, that vote-by-mail options and most early voting arrangements merely change the mechanics of how and when the same shrunken electorate casts its ballots. These measures are supposed to "reduce the cost" of voting and they do, marginally. But he states a caveat:

It's just not clear how far these efforts take us in the direction of the Holy Grail: making our electorates more representative and improving our politics.

However, "one reform holds real promise" -- automatic voter registration. After all,

we human beings are lousy at planning ahead. ... [According to Princeton researcher Sam Wang, automatic registration at every contact with government] triggers "the power of the default option," meaning that the easier option is to allow oneself to be registered to vote. "Human beings, it turns out don't like to think very hard." ... it's actually pretty unremarkable once you realize that many people have very busy lives and are not all that tuned in to the daily news about politics, which (let's face it) can often be mind-numbingly frustrating and impenetrable to non-junkies.

That's the story about automatic registration from the point of view of the potential voters. But where Sargent shines is understanding how having a largely automatically registered population would change campaigns. Increasing the electorate by registering new voters is expensive in both money and volunteer time, so much so that many campaigns simply skip that work, settling for trying to reach the same old voters who are already on the rolls. Any voter registration is an afterthought. Automatic registration would mean campaigns could move directly to identifying supporters and persuading the persuadable from lists that include just about everyone potentially able to vote. Those canvassing activities have been found to be most fruitful way to increase voting among people who don't have the habit.

Still, Sargent insists we need to understand there's nothing easy about encouraging more voting. He quotes extensively from Democratic pollster Celinda Lake who has been investigating why people don't vote for decades.

Lake told me that what comes up in these focus groups [of nonvoters] again and again is that nonvoters live in a social context heavily populated by other nonvoters. She recalled one focus group of unmarried female nonvoters in which the moderator asked them if they would vote if they knew their their friends and family were voting. Lake says one woman replied, "I don't know who your friends and family are, but mine don't vote."

Campaigns working to turn such individuals out have to create so much noise and activity and at-the-doors contact that it all stands in as an alternative social milieu for the target voting group. That's a big job and it is both expensive and labor intensive.

I've only touched on part of one chapter in An Uncivil War here. There's lots more on gerrymandering, on legislative hardball, on constitutional disillusionment. This is a good nuts and bolts book, not just more theorizing about "democratic recession" as marked by the ascension of the Orange Crook. it's a smooth, short read. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

It's Mueller time again

The former Special Counsel is expected to testify before House Judiciary and House Intelligence Committees this Wednesday. He has made clear that he will not enlarge on his findings as expressed in the report delivered in March.

But how many of us have read this 400 page document? Not many of us.

In The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts, playwright Robert Schenkkan has adapted the words of the report for a staged reading at the Riverside Church that took place on June 24. An all-star cast led by John Lithgow as Trump performs the legal phrasings with energy and even some laughs. After all, the Trump entourage are clowns as well as knaves and wanna-be gangsters. Lithgow's rendition of the raging Trump is sometimes funny -- until you remember this guy is president and shows every sign of wanting to use the power of his office to harm his enemies.

This performance is well worth a little more than an hour of your time. Stick with it, let it roll over you and sink in, and then ponder again what you are doing to make sure the Orange Crook is a one term president.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Movement history that can inspire today

Since I dinged one academic yesterday for what I considered weak historical analogies that shed little light on his subject, now I want to raise up an article by an historian that I think uncovers powerful resonances between contemporary events and US history.

Manisha Sinha is the author of the monumental study The Slave's Cause: a History of Abolition. In The New Fugitive Slave Laws in the New York Review of Books, she discusses several recent criminal cases brought against humanitarians which call to mind 19th century struggles to end slavery in the United States.
Scott Warren, a volunteer for the group No More Deaths, has been charged for illegally providing food and water to migrants in the Arizona desert. His travails remind her of the Ohio farmer John Van Zandt whose long legal battle in the 1840s against indictment for assisting nine fugitive slaves to hide successfully left him penniless and broken. Warren's recent trial led to a hung jury; the government wants to try him again.

The German ship captain Carola Rackete rescued 41 African migrants from the Mediterranean Sea; the right-wing populist government of Italy seized her ship, though individual criminal charges laid against here were dismissed by an Italian judge. The organization that sponsored her voyage, Sea-Watch International, charges Italy with "kidnapping." Sinha points out that

Abolitionists, too, often called those who captured free blacks and assisted in fugitive slave renditions “kidnappers,” ...

She goes on to draw out the similarities between our recoil from images of the drowned Salvadoran father, Óscar Ramírez, and his young daughter, Valeria with the immense impact of the scene of the slave Eliza and her infant escaping across the Ohio River in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).

She concludes:

Today, in criminalizing the provision of humanitarian assistance to migrants we have resurrected the fugitive slave laws of antebellum America. Just as abolitionist activists were once targeted, human rights activists have found themselves in the sights of the Trump administration for surveillance and prosecution, according to a recent Amnesty International report. ...

Some historical analogies can mislead, granted, but we should be mindful of the lessons from history that can shine light on our current humanitarian crisis. The first is that evils we had thought long banished from civilized societies can reappear, and with alarming speed. ... The second lesson from history is how quickly such measures can be accepted as necessary, even “natural.” That ordinary people of any ethnicity or nationality can partake in and support evil actions at any time is not news to historians.

... the interracial nineteenth-century abolition movement can provide valuable inspiration to those involved in today’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid to migrants and refugees and to resist the threatened descent into authoritarianism, mass atrocity, and inhumanity. ... The plight of today’s “Dreamers” and citizens and legal immigrants married to undocumented immigrants is comparable to the status of runaway slaves who married free blacks and raised children in free states. ... We might well paraphrase Frederick Douglass’s great speech, “What to the interned migrant is the Fourth of July?”

The [1850] Fugitive Slave Law sparked outrage in the North, especially in areas where the abolition movement was strong. Hundreds of cases brought to court under the law by slave-catchers and slave owners in the 1850s led to abolitionist protests and scuffles with federal marshals.

Manisha Sinha's history of abolitionism is less a retelling of what happened in the course of this country's tormented trajectory toward ending slavery and more an exploration and evaluation of abolitionism as a prolonged social movement. Because that's how she's chosen to look at the past, it is not surprising that she excels at picturing the present within a social movement vision. Read it all here.
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